The University of Texas banned TikTok from all of its Wi-Fi networks after Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order to ban the app from all government devices due to cybersecurity concerns.
On Dec. 7, Abbott released a letter ordering every government agency to ban its employees from downloading or using TikTok on any government-owned devices due to “growing threats” posed by the popular social media app. The app ban applies to all government-owned mobile phones, laptops, tablets, desktops, and other devices capable of connecting to the internet, including those at government universities.
The app, known for its short videos, has over 86 million users in the US and is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, raising concerns among several state and federal officials about the app’s ties to the Chinese government.
See order:Gov. Abbott bans TikTok from government devices over data theft concerns in China
“TikTok collects vast amounts of data from its users’ devices, including when, where and how they engage in online activity, and offers this trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government,” Abbott wrote in the letter. “While TikTok claims to store U.S. data in the U.S., the company acknowledged in a letter to Congress that Chinese employees may have access to that U.S. data.”
More:Here’s what University of Texas students hope to see in the 2023 legislative session
UT’s move to restrict the app on its Wi-Fi networks means that anyone on campus connected to UT’s Wi-Fi network will not be able to use TikTok, even on their personal devices. The announcement comes about a month after the university ordered all faculty, staff and students not to install TikTok on their university-owned devices and to remove the app immediately if they had already downloaded it.
“The university is taking these important steps to address the risks to the information contained on the university network and to our critical infrastructure,” Jeff Neyland, technology strategy advisor to the president of UT, wrote in a letter to students on Tuesday. “As outlined in the Governor’s directive, TikTok is collecting massive amounts of data from its users’ devices… and offering this trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government.”
UT junior Gabriel Orellana said he uses TikTok at least once a day for an hour because it provides him with personalized entertainment. Despite the ban, he said he plans to continue using TikTok for his own mobile data, but UT’s decision could act as a deterrent for him as it won’t be easy to access the app on campus.
“The state’s decision to ban TikTok seems like an overreaction,” Orellana said. “There are so many apps and websites collecting our data and personal information these days that it seems normal for now. There may be a legitimate reason for restricting privacy/data to want to restrict an app, but in my opinion the public is not sufficiently aware of these concerns to justify these actions.”
More:Opinion: why university exemptions are needed to ban TikTok
According to CNN, 31 states have taken action to restrict TikTok on state-owned devices due to concerns about the app’s association with the Chinese government. President Joe Biden recently signed a bill that would ban the app from use on federal government devices, with some exceptions for law enforcement or national security purposes.
“We are disappointed that so many states are jumping on the political bandwagon to adopt policies that do nothing to improve cybersecurity in their states and are based on unsubstantiated lies about TikTok,” TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown said in a statement. Statesman. “We are especially sorry to see the unintended consequences of this hasty policy, which is starting to affect the ability of universities to share information, recruit students, and build communities around sports teams, student groups, campus publications, and more.”
According to the Associated Press, during a speech at the University of Michigan in December, FBI Director Christopher Wray expressed concern that China could control the app’s recommendation algorithm and collect user data that could be used for spying.
“All these things are in the hands of a government that does not share our values and that has a mission that is very different from what is in the interests of the United States,” Ray said. “That should worry us.
Writing for the Statesman, UT professors Natalie Stroud and Samuel Woolley wrote that the state’s TikTok ban was applied “too broadly” and put young people at risk by restricting government agencies from “gathering, analyzing and sharing information.” Stroud and Woolley are part of the Engagement Center with the media, which conducts research “in the interests of the media landscape”.
“Without access to TikTok, government employees, including researchers and public university professors like us, are limited in their ability to provide relevant information,” Stroud and Woolley wrote. “A total ban also ties the hands of experts working to understand the platform and the complexities involved in real-world privacy and security issues online.”